Anderson Ranch takes in artists displaced by Katrina | AspenTimes.com

Anderson Ranch takes in artists displaced by Katrina

Chad Abraham

Allison Stewart, an artist form New Orleans who is relocating her studio to Anderson Ranch in Snowmass, stands with acrylic and charcoal pieces she created after Hurricane Katrina. (Mark Fox/The Aspen Times)

If art imitates life, painters and sculptors from New Orleans should have no shortage of harsh inspiration.Some of their creations will spring forth at the Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass Village this winter.In a storm-damaged art gallery in New Orleans, engineers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency have set up shop, displacing several painters. One has already relocated to the Roaring Fork Valley, and three other artists from the ravaged city will be here in a few weeks.All are receiving support, including housing, from Anderson Ranch, which has many connections to New Orleans. Watching the catastrophe develop, ranch officials tried their best to get in contact with artists who have ties to the valley.Rashad Butler, a former assistant and resident artist at the center, was pursuing a degree in sculpture from Xavier before the New Orleans university, along with most of the city’s other educational infrastructure, was dismantled by Hurricane Katrina. He will be coming to Snowmass with his fiancee, Michelle Lavigne. Both are painters and sculptors.Butler last year was an assistant to Rick Parsons, head of Anderson Ranch’s sculpture program. It took Parsons two weeks to get in touch with Butler, said Jennifer Cassidy Swanson, programs administrator at the arts center.

“[Butler] got out right before [Hurricane Katrina], and he ended up in some random relief center where there were a million people and there were no phones,” she said. “They lost everything.”Anderson Ranch usually offers artist residencies of two, three and six months. The New Orleans artists will likely stay for the full six months “because they don’t really know what else they have,” Swanson said.They will be staying in dorm-style housing on the campus, and ranch officials managed to find a private room that Butler and Lavigne can share.”If you had asked us before the [hurricane], we would’ve told you our resident program is full,” Swanson said.But when administrators realized that the artists needed a place to stay and work, they did some shuffling and found or made space for them.Allison Stewart, a landscape painter from New Orleans, said the arts center was generous in allowing her to use studio space.

Her full-time studio is in a former convent in the downtown area of the city. The three-story building, which was built in the 1870s, housed nine artists – “It was fabulous,” she said.The building suffered some flooding and significant roof damage, although Stewart’s studio remained intact. But the engineering company that owns the building allowed FEMA engineers to set up shop after the storm, Stewart said.She owns a second home in Snowmass Village and has previously attended classes at Anderson Ranch. As nice as the mountains are, Stewart is eager to get back to New Orleans to check on her home, which escaped damage. Two vehicles at her home in the Warehouse District were not as lucky; they were lost “to the looting and the vandalism,” she said.Kathleen Loe, director of Anderson Ranch’s painting program, is also a New Orleans native. Much of her mixed-media artwork in the past year focused on the critical marshlands surrounding the city. These lands are disintegrating because of development and other causes and are taking with them an important buffer that helps absorb the brunt of hurricanes.”Some of the places that she went and photographed this spring don’t exist right now,” Swanson said. “She has photographs of places that can never be photographed again the same way.”Anderson Ranch recently held a rare offseason auction to raise money for the artists and other costs related to their relocation. Auctions usually only take place in the summer. Swanson said those in attendance were generous.

“We had a much bigger crowd than I think we ever would have anticipated,” she said.The effects of the hurricane and the floods on life and art will likely continue for years, perhaps forever. For Stewart, the storm “can’t help but impact [my] work. Life is not the same after Katrina.”Swanson echoed that sentiment, saying that she expected to see themes of lives disrupted in the work of artists over the winter.”Most artists I know, when trauma hits their lives, it comes back out in the art,” she said. “I would be surprised to not see this as part of what they create when they’re here.”Chad Abraham’s e-mail address is chad@aspentimes.com